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Safe at Home? Here’s How to Cope with COVID-19 Restrictions



What to Do, What to Buy for Extended Quarantine


COVID-19, the serious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, is changing the way we live, work and play. With most schools, offices and public gathering places across the state shut down, New Jerseyans are learning to adjust to a new world in which social gatherings are off-limits and nearly all our friends and neighbors are sheltering in place.

For residents of the nation’s most densely populated state, that can be challenging. So here are some tips on how to stay the course when staying inside.


Staying Safe by Staying Home

First, it’s helpful to understand some of the terms used by public health officials when talking about limiting social interactions.

Social distancing: Any effort to restrict social interactions – including school closings and event cancellations, as well as working from home and avoiding public places. It also refers to practices like standing six feet away from others or bumping elbows instead of shaking hands.

  • Quarantine: People under quarantine don’t exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 but have decided to separate themselves from others – usually because they’ve been in contact with someone who has or is suspected of having the virus. It can also refer to people who self-isolate because they are at high risk of contracting the disease – including people over age 60 and those with existing health conditions or who are immunocompromised.
  • Isolation: People who are ill or displaying COVID-19 symptoms who separate themselves from others to prevent the spread of the virus. Isolation can apply to someone in the hospital or to those with less serious symptoms who isolate themselves at home.


Stocking Up For Staying In

An important aspect of social distancing involves limiting our visits to grocery stores and other retail outlets to pick up needed supplies. Officials are urging people to stock up on enough food, water, medical supplies and personal products to last all family members (including pets) at least 14 days. Here is a list of supplies you should have on hand:

Food: It’s best to buy foods that have a long shelf life and that are easy to prepare. These include dry and canned goods like soups and stews, as well as frozen fruits and vegetables. You can also stock up on standards like beans, peanut butter, dried fruit, pasta, tuna, granola and oats. And don’t forget essentials like oil, salt, pepper and butter and pet food and snacks.

  • Medications: Make sure you have at least a 30-day supply of all prescription medications, as well as adequate amounts of over-the-counter products like pain relievers, vitamins and cold and flu medications. It’s also a good idea to have plenty of beverages on hand, including those containing electrolytes.

To support our members during these challenging times, we have made the Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ) pharmacy benefit program more flexible. Through May 31, you can request an early refill of any medication regardless of how much medicine you have on hand. (There are restrictions, of course, for specialty medications or those considered a controlled substance.) We’ve also made it easier to obtain your medications without leaving home through new mail order and home delivery options. Click here for more details on home delivery options.

  • FirstAid Kit: Of course, every household should own a first-aid kit – well stocked with band-aids, gauze, ointment, antiseptic wipes, a cold compress and tweezers. Also essential: a reliable thermometer.
  • Cleaning Supplies: While at home, you’ll want to clean and disinfect household surfaces regularly. So, make sure you have adequate supplies of disinfectants and rubber gloves, as well as other household cleaning products such as laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, paper towels and garbage bags. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has developed a list of commercial cleaning products that have proven effective against the coronavirus.
  • Personal Hygiene Items: Stock up on all standard toiletries, including soap, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products and toilet paper. Extra diapers and wipes are a must if you have young children. Remember, you’re likely to use more of these products now that you’re home full time.

While it’s important to have an adequate supply of necessities, there is no need to hoard these products. Hoarding only strains the supply system and could result in people not being able to access the products they need. 


When You Must Shop

It’s always best to have food and needed supplies delivered, but that’s not always possible. Here are some tips for when you do need to venture out to the grocery store, pharmacy or other retail outlets:

  • Minimize the number of visits. If you’re over 65 or have health conditions, you should avoid going out at all, if possible. If you have no choice, consider visiting the store during hours reserved for seniors.
  • Remember to keep your distance from other shoppers – especially in check-out lines. The CDC recommends separation of six feet. If you can, use the self-checkout line to eliminate interactions with the cashier (or use the credit card reader) and remember to use hand sanitizer when you’re finished.
  • There’s no need to wipe down packages in the store, although you might want to bring along wipes to clean your grocery cart and high-touch areas like freezer handles. Many stores now offer wipes for their shoppers’ use.
  • If you choose to wear gloves, use the disposable kind and throw them away when you get home. More important than gloves is washing your hands before and after visiting a store. You should also use hand sanitizer while you’re out.
  • Should you wipe down your packages when you get home? Most experts say it’s not necessary and that it’s better to save the wipes for more important uses. Again, the best course of action is to wash your hands. And don’t use anything but water when washing fruits and vegetables. You don’t want to ingest the chemicals in wipes or other sanitizers.
  • How about the clothing you wore to the store? There are no studies of whether the virus can be transmitted via clothing. If you’re concerned, launder your clothes at the highest temperature setting possible. That will kill the virus. And don’t shake out your clothes before putting them in the washer.


Other Meal Options

While it’s important to have a well-stocked pantry, it’s worth noting that many restaurants and delis are providing take-out and home delivery services in lieu of on-premise dining. Ordering a take-out meal can provide a welcome culinary change of pace and is a good way of supporting these local establishments.

There’s no indication, according to the CDC and FDA, that COVID-19 is transmitted through foods, particularly cooked foods, but you still need to be careful about packaging and interactions with delivery people. That’s why some delivery services are providing options like contact-free delivery. In many cases, you can also provide specific instructions as to where and how you want your meal delivered.

Once the meal arrives, it’s good practice to transfer the food to your own dishes and to dispose of any food containers and utensils from the restaurant. Make sure you wash your hands for 20 seconds after doing so and disinfect tables and counters before and after you eat.


More Healthy Habits

Beyond providing for basic necessities, there are other healthy habits to should cultivate when staying close to home.

After leaving your home for necessary grocery runs or visits to family members, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly when you return. It’s also a good idea to wipe down surfaces like countertops, tables, doorknobs, handles and faucets regularly – particularly if you’ve had outside visitors.

  • Exercise. Engage in some physical activity every day – even if it’s just a walk around the block. It’s not only a great way to stay in shape but it also serves to clear our minds and to gain a fresh perspective. While many gyms are closed, there are many work-out apps and on-line workouts available.
  • Take breaks – especially at the end of the day. It’s important when work is so close at hand to set boundaries – including taking periodic breaks and turning off at the end of the day. Let colleagues know when you’ll be on-line and when you’ll be off.
  • Pay attention to your mental health. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed during times like these. That’s why it’s so important to take time to refresh, to stay in touch with friends and relatives and to monitor your mental health. If necessary, don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional. Find a mental health professional in Horizon BCBSNJ’s network in our Doctor and Hospital finder or by calling 1-800-626-2212. Your primary care physician can also direct you to a qualified mental health or substance use professional in your area.

For more up-to-date information on COVID-19 from Horizonhealthnews.com, click here.